Green Energy in Kenya – Healthy Water Hyacinth Fuels


Charcoal to be replaced by briquettes and fuel-pellets?

By Perminus Kariuki (COMSTRAT) and Victor Langenberg (Deltares)

The price of charcoal has been on a steep increase, since the recent countrywide ban on logging and ban on charcoal trade in some counties in Kenya. This has come as a tremendous burden for the many households and industries in Kenya, who have for years depended on wood as a primary source of fuel. At the beginning of this year (2018), a 50kg bag of charcoal was sold at around 10 USD, right now, only six months later the same bag is now going for 25 USD and rising. The use of timber for firewood and for production of charcoal has on the other hand led to a gradual depletion of the green cover for this east African country. The current government directives and moratoriums on logging are aimed at salvaging this environmental situation. Furthermore, the Kenyan government has clamped down on the production of charcoal, which it blames for environmental damage. At least a three-month ban on trading is in force in a number of counties.

Ingenious and sustainable alternatives are urgently needed if the country is to stand the increasing demand for fuels. The high price of charcoal, its banned uncontrolled production and the decreasing supply of it will prove to be a strong incentive for the private sector to look for alternatives.

The Waste 2 Energy coalition is driven to tackle the water hyacinth menace in Lake Victoria and suggests the production of fuel off the hyacinth biomass. This presents not only a sustainable and environmentally friendly opportunity for clean energy, but also gives a sustainable and inclusive business solution for the management of water hyacinth in the lake.

In the current hyacinth-fuel pilot study, green fuel products envisaged include; charcoal and high energy fuel-pellets for households and small business users as well as large size briquettes for heavy industrial users. Some of the heavy-industrial users such as tea factories and other beverage production companies, had already mitigated this sustainability concern for wood fuel, and had turned to heavy fuel oils (HFO), as an alternative. HFO has the required calorific values, but is unfortunately categorized as generally unsafe and toxic but cheap and pricing is relatively market steady. But with these risks and looming unpopularity of HFO, there is still need for these companies to consider switching wisely to green fuels. The briquettes produced in Kisumu are such an alternative which we are bringing to the attention of the heavy industrial users during our market research.

And YES, we are happy to inform the VIAWATER community that we are still on course with our market study! We have interviewed the medium-sized users, like schools, restaurants, hotels and hospitals, in Nairobi, Kisumu and some in Nakuru. Also hospitals one might wonder, because they outsource their catering needs, thus talking to hotels here was sufficient.

For large size companies it turned out to be challenging and difficult to find access to the right people at this segment willing to be interviewed during an official meeting. This has slowed us down somewhat. The large companies turned out to be very bureaucratic - people having to ask for permission all the time at different levels. Also in many ways they were somewhat secretive so in most cases no see-through of their energy management was given let alone make pictures at the company site because their plant/equipment and sites layouts are considered confidential. We did however also some telephone calls and in some cases little by little information came out on their type of fuel, its use, techniques, needs, pricing and willingness to switch to alternative resources.

We managed to target for example EABL (East African Brewery Limited, well-known for its nice beers) and KTDA (Kenya Tea Development Agency, a Tea companies’ umbrella company), BIDCO (Bidco Africa, a multinational consumer goods company) as well as some Vegetable processing companies, other Tea companies, Bottlers (like coca cola) and Meru Dairy Union.

Currently we are analysing all the gathered information and consolidate this with current and anticipated market developments into the key ingredients needed for setting up a business plan for medium and large scaled industries. Because without a clear plan based on solid latest facts and market intel it would be suicide to start a biofuel business, even though the current market developments are promising.